By Pia A. Gaarder
The Brazilian state of Espirito Santo this March appointed a committee with mandate to investigate into Aracruz Celulose's possibly numerous violations and crimes in connection with purchases of land areas converted into eucalyptus plantations. Three times Lorentzen have neglected to meet before the investigation committee, first time on August 13, then on September 17, and lastly on October the 15th. Lorentzen has presented a midical certificate stating he cannot endure situations that are stressful.
The investigations into Princess Ragnhild's husband's company for a long time received little or no media attention in Norway. Recently, however, major tabloid VG caught interest, and have published a number of articles. According to VG, Lorentzen, while under investigation for corruption and land-robbery, have himself been exposed to blackmail. The blackmailers are said to be local politicians in Espirito Santo.
Lorentzen have not wished to comment on the matter to VG. The tabloid's anonymous informants, however, claim the politician entered Lorentzen's office demanding one million US dollars to put an end to the problems Aracruz has had with the state government of Espirito Santos.
The VG report more than suggests that both the law that prohibits new eucalyptus plantations, and the investigation committee itself, are parts of the politicians' asttempt to blackmail Aracruz Celulose. Aracruz is seemingly haunted by a corrupt state, making all kinds of problems for the company.
NorWatch's sources draw a slightly different picture of the situation.
Espirito Santo has major corruption and mob problems. The state is worn with problems of organized crime infiltrating almost every single state organ. The situation in the Brazilian state is extremely chaotic, making it hard to separate truths from lies. Post the VG report, it has however become known the claim that Aracruz has been attempted blackmailed, has reached as far as the Brazilian parliament.
Representatives from Aracruz went to the capital, talking with sentators and federal members of the national parliament. Before this audience, the Aracruz representatives claimed the company had been attempted blackmailed by state politicians. The politicians wanted money in the form of election funds in exchange for changing their attitude towards the law banning new eucalyptus plantations.
- The reactions to Aracruz' visite turned into a parliament debate, wherein Aracruz was asked to the present names of the blackmailers. As this didn't happen, Aracruz failed to convince the Parliament, Marcelo Calazana told NorWatch. Calazana is spokesperson for the organisation FASE, which work for the rights of the indigenous people and the no-lands, and the problems that have been caused by the spread of eucalyptus plantations.
President of the Espirito Santo parliament, José Carlos Gratz, is suspected of being responsible for organized crime in the state. He is untouchable because of his position. Gratz is said to control the vast majority of MP's, causing the common man to perceive that the Parliament has been "taken over" by organized crime.
A few months ago a lawyer investigating organized crime in the state was killed. The organisation of lawyers in Espirito Santo asked the frederal authorities to remove both state governor José Ignacio Ferreira and state parliament president José Carlos Gratz from their positions, until every single organized crime leader was arrested.
That initiative was widely supported by all civil organisations in Espirito Santo. It was passed both in the Brazilian human rights committee and in the Ministry of Justice. When it turned out the proposal did not receive support further up in the system, the Minister of Justice, Miguel Reale, handed over his resignation in protest.
One of the unofficial reasons the proposal did not pass, is said to be that the matter constituted a political liability in the pre-election period (before October 6). A specificly mandated committee was, however, sent to Espirito Santo and will investigate into the matter of organized crime for two months. Much indicates the committee haven't performed a lot so far.
As Aracruz wanted to further espand its eucalyptus plantations, and started to buy new areas of land in Espirito Santo, state parliament politician Nasser Youssef introduced a law banning new eucalyptus plantations until the ecological consequences were mapped. Youssef, today head of the investigation committee into Aracruz, is an old-timer in the struggle for ecological agriculture. He is known for his strong personal integrity, and is therefor relied upon by the grass root organisations representing indians and no-lands - those who suffer most from the expansion of the eucalyptus plantations.
Against all odds, the state parliament - including president Gratz - passed the bill to ban new eucalyptus plantations. Aracruz, however, received support from another quarter: The state governor, who then was involved in a nasty blackmailing scandal, vetoed the bill, thus temporarily lifting the ban.
When Youssef organized an international seminar on eucalytus and its impacts in August 2001, the 1000 participants are said to have laid a tremendous pessure upon the state parliament - which in turn passed the bill to ban new eucalyptus plantations. Nothing is therein said about the varying motivations with the politicians for the new attitude towards the eucalyptus problem. Probably, everyone weren't equally burning of interest with the negative social and ecological impacts of monocultures with eucalyptus.
In the same matter, Aracruz, in other words, received support from a corrupt governor and met contrary wind from a parliament lead by a dodgy president.
- It is impossible for us to decide whether Aracruz has been attempted blackmailed. This practice is very common. But we have no evidence, either, to support the rumours about the blackmail that Aracruz is said to be responsible for. All we know, is that Nasser Youssef is an honest member of the parliament, even though he does need the support of president Gratz in order to have bills passed. The question is, whether Aracruze uses Espirito Santo's bad reputation as defence against the accusations of brick-dropping directed at the company itself, said Marcelo Calazans.